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By the time this column sees print, the Presidential election will have been decided–or not, if we undergo a replay of the 2000 rigmarole. One thing is certain: If George W. Bush is re-elected for a second term, the art world will only have itself to blame. Really, how could any thinking lefty not run in to the arms of the R.N.C after suffering the deluge of puerile anti-American art seen in recent months at the galleries?
Take, for instance, Alex Bag’s The Coven Services/Demo Reel (2004), a video included in Election, a “varied, vital and strategic” group show organized by James Meyer for American Fine Arts Co. Parodying the conventions of television advertising, Ms. Bag and a few of her cohorts appear in a series of skits taking on Halliburton, AOL/Time Warner, Abu Ghraib prison, metrosexuals and, if the bit on “Charmin anal paper” is an indication, bodily hygiene. Interspersed between these segments are snippets of Paris Hilton’s infamous green and ghostly sex video.
What’s shocking about The Coven Services/Demo Reel is not the amateurishness of its execution (though it is pretty sad) or its reflexive politics. It’s not Ms. Hilton contorting herself into a variety of compromising positions. It’s the scope of Ms. Bag’s self-regard–it exceeds that of the world’s most famous hotel heiress. Now that’s an accomplishment.
Watch Ms. Bag plow her way through one humorless skit after another: She radiates an insufferable condescension, as if she couldn’t imagine a world that didn’t take her word as bond. (She probably can’t.) Narcissism posing as political activism is par for the course, but Ms. Bag–well, she’s done something special here. The Coven Services/Demo Reel makes the conceptualist bric-a-brac seen elsewhere in Election look nuanced by comparison.
Thank the Lord, then, for John Waters–yes, that John Waters. His sculpture, an oversized campaign button with the enthusiastic inscription “Have Sex in a Voting Booth,” reminds us that if we must have political art, it should, at the very least, have the courtesy of being (a) funny and (b) unpretentious. Would that Mr. Waters’ fellow travelers in aggrieved agitprop were hip to that simple lesson.
© 2004 Mario Naves
Originally published in the November 7, 2004 edition of The New York Observer.